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Robotic surgeons may not live up to the hype

In the world of medicine, there is a common belief that more technology is better. And in many cases, this is true -- pacemaker batteries are smaller and stronger than ever before, and certain surgeries can now be done with almost no incision. But in all the rush to digitize and modernize our medical procedures, there is the risk that some of our new technologies may not be an improvement over the methods they are replacing.

According to a recent article from Bloomberg, robotic surgeons are on the rise in America today. In Ohio and across the country, hospitals are installing high-tech robots that are supposedly able to manipulate surgical devices with greater precision than a surgeon.

The new wave of robotic surgery is, in part, pushed forward by clever marketing. Manufacturers of one robot, priced at $1.5 million, filled hospital websites with advertisements for their new device. The robot caught on, and spread to many hospitals.

Unfortunately, the robot isn't perfect. In fact, one doctor using robot-assisted surgery has had ten patients suffer complications or injuries in a three-year period. These complications resulted in nerve damage, punctured arteries and even death.

In fact, no study has ever proven that robotic assistants produce fewer surgical errors than human doctors. Critics say the proliferation of the devices is more a product of marketing, rather than any medical advantage. In addition, surgeries undertaken with the device usually cost thousands of dollars more than the non-robotic alternative.

Despite this, however, doctors continue to extol the virtues of the robotic assistants, and the machines continue to spread throughout our country's medical facilities. Consumers should be aware of the risks and benefits of any surgery that they undertake, and, if the surgery is unsuccessful, they should be aware of their rights as patients. Patients who have suffered due to the negligence of their surgeon have a right to seek compensation for the injuries they have suffered.

Bloomberg, "Robot Surgery Damaging Patients Rises With Marketing" Robert Langreth, Oct. 07, 2013

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